The CW’s new series “Tom Swift” almost seems like a deliberate slap in the face to Utah Sen. Mike Lee. It’s not, but it’s also pretty clear that Lee will hate the show.
Lee will, at least, hate the idea of the show, which I’m guessing he’ll never watch. Because the title character is a Black, gay billionaire who’s not afraid to let people know who he is.
(”Tom Swift” premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Channel 30.)
Lee, of course, is afraid of gay people. He’s afraid there’s too many of them on TV. He wants parents to be warned about the mere presence of members of the LGBTQ+ community in a show.
The Utah senator and four of his Republican colleagues signed a letter that, among other things, alleged that the “motivations of hypersexualized entertainment producers striving to push this content on young audiences are suspect at best and predatory at worst.”
No, what’s suspect is Lee’s motivations. It was a blatantly political move meant to appeal to a political base that hates people because of their sexual orientation. An attempt to paint them as predators. And it’s moronic — there’s no evidence that seeing LGBTQ+ characters on TV in any way affects the sexual orientation of viewers.
If that were true, wouldn’t the overwhelming preponderance of straight characters have long ago changed the sexual orientation of gay viewers? It doesn’t work that way, and pretending it does is not just stupid but aggressively hateful and harmful.
The letter Lee and his pals signed was nothing but political grandstanding. They appealed to the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, which has no power to enforce anything. And they completely took out of context a comment by Karey Burke, president of Disney’s General Entertainment, about increasing queer representation in the company’s entertainment programming.
It’s not about turning anyone gay, it’s about representation. It’s about letting gay kids know they’re not alone, and straight kids know that gay people exist. The same as adding people of color to shows that, in the past, would’ve had all-white casts.
And that’s where “Tom Swift” comes in. He’s young. He’s brilliant. He’s good looking. He’s gay, and he doesn’t care who knows.
Even though his father, Barton (Christopher B. Duncan), thinks Tom (Tian Richards) is too “sensitive.” The two are at odds when Barton takes off for outer space in a ship Tom designed, and things suddenly go wrong.
“Tom Swift” is the first network show in American TV history to feature a gay person of color as the lead character. And that kind of representation counts.
“What I hope to see is a world where we see less and less of that resistance from our parents,” said Richards, who is bisexual. “Thankfully, I have a mother and father who — we don’t have that issue. They did fully accept me and my journey and everything in-between. We have other issues, but not that one.”
Creator/executive producer Cameron Johnson said Barton is concerned for Tom in the wrong way, fearing, “You’re gay and your life’s going to be harder and you’re not the type of person I wanted you to be. And Tom is, like, ‘I can do so many things, I just do it differently. I just am doing it gay. I’m doing it fabulously.’”
Johnson said the real issue is parents accepting that their children’s vision of themselves “can be different” from what they expected. “And your job is not to, like, try to beat them into submission. … It’s to help them be the best possible version of themselves.”
“Tom Swift” is not, however, a lecture on LGBTQ+ rights. It’s a frothy action/adventure show filled with beautiful cars, beautiful clothes, beautiful homes and beautiful people. There are twists and turns, conspiracies to be uncovered and a world to save from the bad guys.
The original Tom Swift character, in a series of books that were first published in 1910, was neither Black nor gay. Books back then were remarkably racist by today’s standards.
“We definitely wanted to make a show that was way more inclusive than the original.” said executive producer Melinda Hsu Taylor. The cast is primarily Black, and one character is both Black and transgender — a character prompted, in part, because Hsu Taylor’s transgender son told her “there aren’t any” TV characters that reflect his life on TV. “And I said, ‘I’m going to change that for you, honey, if I can.’ …
“Everybody knows somebody who struggled with their kids’ identity. And we have hope for those folks that maybe they could come around or maybe they could evolve.”
Which is why, no matter what your sexual identify, “Tom Swift” has “somebody to relate to, somebody to cheer for, somebody to hope for and, and feel like, ‘That’s me.’”
Queer representation is not about converting anyone — despite ridiculous letter from U.S. senators — it’s about letting people know that they’re not alone. And that their lives can be, yes, fabulous.
“It is great to grow up in a household where you can be fully realized and fully self-actualized,” Richards said. “And since I am the product of that, I hope that everybody gets a chance to experience that. But that’s, you know, not, that’s not the reality.”
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